No Strangers to Death

It’s 5:30am and I know I still have a good hour before the sun comes up. Despite the cobblestone roads, the holes on the paved ones, and random rocks left to test my reflexes, I still prefer to run in the dark. I live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and actually, there are many other runners out at this time. We silently pass one another with full knowledge that all culturally appropriate greetings can be dismissed at 5:30am.

I slowed down for a moment confused by the shape of something with ears laying in the road. I was afraid it might move or run out in front of me but as the shadows shifted I could clearly see the severed sheep head was going nowhere on its own. A mile or so later I came up on a pack of dogs tearing apart the guts of a goat that had been tied up in a plastic bag and thrown out the window of a car. I gave them their space. Perhaps one of my least favorite scenes to reminisce would have been when the sick horse outside our neighborhood was attacked by a pack of hyenas but in the process passed out on top of one and killed it. I guess sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach.

My husband is a hospice nurse that does home-care visits in one of the poorest, most destitute communities of Addis situated next to the city’s only dump. His stories of bed wounds, frailty, poverty, and heartache are almost too much for the average listener. His patients are of all ages but the youngest: 6 months. Just about a year ago, part of that dump collapsed and trapped hundreds beneath it. The stories from new life lost to losing entire families during this tragedy were unfathomable.

During our first year in Ethiopia I awoke one morning before light to the horrific sounds of my neighbor screaming and wailing. I truly thought something had happened to her 3-year-old son. With dread in my heart I covered my head out of respect and went to her door. Other neighbors informed me that her sister had passed away in the night. I was ushered inside her small tin home to sit next to the body.

Countless times I’ve passed a person laying on the side of the road in a position that isn’t natural and wonder, “Are they ok? Why is nobody stopping? Should I stop?” I’ve seen the aftermath of car crashes and the only sign of life left is blood covering the road.

Needless to say, we are no strangers to death.

I don’t recount all of this heartache and loss to arouse pity or even sorrow but rather to say there is only one truly redeemable piece to it all: Christ.

To be with people on their death bed or with family members that lost a loved one, to be the only community a person may have ushering them in during their last moments to eternity with Him, makes every encounter with death redeemable.

To see a non-believer accept Christ despite very possible persecution, we see the power of the resurrection and all that Christ made possible when he rose again.

Sometimes on those morning runs as the sun is coming up, the silhouettes of our Muslim neighbors and friends heading to the mosque remind me of Ezekiel 37 and my lips are pressed to say, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!.” When those friends ask how Jesus could be God and die, we embrace the story of a radical hero who came to take the place of all of us and suffer what we deserve.

Yet, death could never reign over Him and it didn’t; not on the third day.

Easter in Ethiopia is quite the cultural celebration. Many Orthodox believers refrain from meat and dairy for 8 weeks building up to it and they break the fast after a long church service held on Good Friday. Much like with other cultures and holidays, Easter or “Fasika” has also become a time to gather, drink, and party. The meaning of the holiday is forgotten and the day reflects nothing more than “no work” and a reason to be rowdy- but we know.

Despite the very tangible death surrounding us, rather on a morning run, during the throws of ministry, or an evening walk, we’ll persistently point to the third day and what He did.

How have you been part of something that God is bringing to life or renewing on this earth, in your chosen field? Is there anything/anyone that you have subconsciously felt is unredeemable that you need to hand over to God?

Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash

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2 Comments

  1. MaDonna March 30, 2018

    I have no words for all you witness in a week, or even on a given day, but I love and am roused by the words you challenge us all with in the midst of it all. “To be with people on their death bed or with family members that lost a loved one, to be the only community a person may have ushering them in during their last moments to eternity with Him, makes every encounter with death redeemable.
    To see a non-believer accept Christ despite very possible persecution, we see the power of the resurrection and all that Christ made possible when he rose again.”
    Thank you…

  2. Kathy Vaughan April 1, 2018

    This past month I have had the privilege of seeing God literally bring beauty from ashes as I have worked with a slum community after about 70 homes were leveled in a fire. New homes, new businesses, new babies (4 so far), and new life in Christ (10 so far), and soon new Bible studies! Sadly, one of the babies died. The single mom was alienated from family, alone and stunned, not knowing what to do. What a blessed opportunity to sit a wake with her and others in the community, walk with her through preparations, and see the community come together to help her in her hour of darkness. I am praying that Susan will respond to the gospel that has been shared with her so clearly. The people have seen God at work, caring for them, providing for them, and the word I hear often from them is that they now have hope. In the devastation that the world brings, we can offer HOPE, because of Jesus!

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